Towards Gender Equality, a Challenge that Brings Us TogetherThe plight of rural women in Argentina exposes our historical debts
For many decades, women have fought for equal participation in society, on par with men; this struggle has now gained remarkable momentum, with unprecedented power and presence throughout the world. In Argentina, we are experiencing a historical moment, in which the struggle for equal rights for women has become one of the main topics on the political and especially the social agenda. Whereas before this was a topic only addressed by experts, it has currently become part of daily conversations and discussions, at the family table, in schools, cities and rural environments. Addressing gender is now much more than speaking about violence; it is now a matter of human rights.
We know full well that any prosperous country requires an egalitarian society. In the words of Kofi Annan, “gender equality is much more than just an end in itself, but a prerequisite to face the challenges of poverty reduction, promotion of sustainable development and the development of solid governance’’.
Within this process of social and cultural transformation, the State plays a key role not only in the articulation of new social demands but also as an active promoter of public policies that guarantee that all people, regardless of their gender, can access the same rights and be free to fully exercise their autonomy.
Addressing gender is now much more than speaking about violence; it is now a matter of human rights.
The fact that we are currently discussing historical social issues strengthens our democracy and our institutions. Since the beginning of his tenure, the President has taken on the role of leader and promoter of gender equality. The State and the entire society alike have the responsibility to reflect upon the issue and generate changes that will contribute to bridging historical inequality gaps, ensuring a truly egalitarian country where every individual can enjoy freedom of choice.
In Argentina, half of the population are women and 40% of them are heads of household. 1,772,107 women live in rural environments; however, gender inequality becomes evident at many different levels:
Unpaid work is almost exclusively a woman’s task: Women dedicate almost twice as many hours as men to household chores and caring for others. At work, women are not given the same opportunities as men: Women get paid 23.5% less than men for doing the same job. Men occupy 68.8% of managerial positions in the private sector, whereas women only 31.2%. Women’s physical integrity is not guaranteed. During 2017, 251 women were murdered due to their gender, and between 2008 and 2017, 3,378 boys and girls were left without their mother, of this number, 2,161 (more than 66%) are under the age of 18. Decision-making environments are mostly male-dominated: Out of 24 governors, 4 are women; 1 out of 5 justices in the Supreme Court is a woman; 9.4% of mayors are women; 37.5% of Argentine senators are women; and 35.6% of the seats in the Lower House are occupied by women.
Current problems faced by rural women reveal the historical debts of the government, civil society and the business sector, not only in terms of financial autonomy but also in helping these women overcome poverty, deal with unpaid work and care, unequal pay, discrimination in the workplace and insufficient social protection.
Rural women make the multiple dimensions of gender inequality visible. Although they account for a third of the world population and are responsible for half of the world’s food production, they were invisible for many years from the public policy perspective.
Current problems faced by rural women reveal the historical debts of the government, civil society and the business sector.
With respect to economic equality, rural women have less access to productive resources and means of production than their male peers. They are also more exposed to poverty and isolation than urban women, due to their decreased access to social and cultural services and to proper infrastructure.
Furthermore, as in the cities, rural women are responsible for unpaid work, which usually goes unnoticed. Domestic chores in the countryside require more time and effort, as they involve harder, more complex tasks than in the city. If we consider gender equality from the perspective of decision-making and citizenship participation, rural women find it much more challenging to be a part of public decision-making, and therefore voice their opinions in these settings.
Finally, like urban women, rural women are deeply affected by gender violence, although services and comprehensive assistance tend to be more concentrated in places with a higher population density. Rural women may be more vulnerable to this issue if assistance and justice cannot be easily accessed.
This challenging scenario reveals the need to promote integrated and coordinated policies aimed at eliminating gender inequality and promoting a more equal society. It is for this reason that we are moving forward with concrete actions and strategies to institutionalize this process.
In an effort to prioritize and incorporate gender approach into all public policies and promote women’s empowerment, the National Women’s Institute (INAM) was created in 2017. It provides continuity for the actions developed by the National Women’s Council, which was active between 1992 and 2017. The INAM was created as a decentralized body within the Ministry of Social Development, with the rank of State Secretariat.
Currently, official statistics have become available. A joint initiative between the Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC) and the INAM, together with the organizations that provide assistance to women who suffer from gender violence, resulted in the creation of a Single Registry for Cases of Violence against Women, covering the period between 2013 and 2017, to compensate for the historical lack of information that had kept this problem hidden.
We have promoted the first National Equality Plan, through which 36 organizations have jointly drafted a total of 200 commitments, including goals, indicators and terms. Through this initiative, our country complies with the international obligations it assumed when it adhered to the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, the recommendations made by organizations such as the CEDAW Committee, the Human Rights Council of the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The National Equality Plan is not just a roadmap but a plan of action to achieve gender equality in Argentina. This is the first time in our country’s history that the Executive Power is making a commitment to gender equality in an articulated, strategic and integrated manner. Furthermore, the Plan will be centrally monitored by an independent organization, in view of the importance this has not only for our government but also for the entire society.
In many cases, women earn in one year what their male colleagues make in 8 months.
In the workplace, the existing salary gap is definitely an unresolved issue. In many cases, women earn in one year what their male colleagues make in 8 months. Additionally, with respect to managerial positions, there is usually more male presence. Generally speaking, in Argentina, women suffer from higher unemployment rates, more unstable paid work conditions, and lower salaries. Furthermore, a high percentage of women have endured sexual harassment in the workplace by their bosses, coworkers or clients. This scenario is usually associated with the traditional belief that female workers should have a secondary role in the workplace, as they are considered highly unstable, undertrained or limited by motherhood. In other words, a stereotypical approach is applied to their profile in accordance with roles historically assigned to each gender.
For this reason, the Executive Power has sent a bill to the National Congress, seeking to ensure equal pay and opportunities in all work-related aspects, banning any type of discrimination based on gender or marital status. The project proposes amendments to the Work Contract Act to support women who suffer from gender bias, giving mothers and fathers more flexibility to care for their children, establishing leave of absence due to gender violence, extending maternity and paternity leave, or absence resulting from assisted reproduction or adoption procedures, and making it possible to temporarily shorten the work day with proportional pay for both mothers and fathers.
We are also fostering the Gender Equality Initiative in Argentina as part of a group of actions promoted by countries in the region, through a partnership between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Economic Forum, to bridge gender gaps from an economic perspective. The goal of this action is to increase women’s participation in the economy, bridge the pay gap between men and women, and support women’s participation in leadership positions.
In 2018, our country hosted the Women 20 (W20), an engagement group of the G20 made up of a transnational network of women leaders, which seeks to impact decision-making groups with respect to implementing gender-equal policies. The Argentine chapter of the W20 supports economic growth with gender inclusion based on four pillars: labor, digital, financial and rural. Also, its goal is to apply a gender focus across all engagement groups of the G20.
Historically, women have played a key role in the reproduction, care and upbringing of children. Therefore, their lack of empowerment and the difficulties they face have a direct negative impact on their children’s development. There is a proven correlation between a mother’s wellbeing and empowerment and the positive development of their children. For many women, the only way to combine caring for their children and generating income is to enter the informal economy with unstable incomes, which hinders their access to child care services. This scenario is even worse for rural women, for whom the possibility of receiving these services is even lower.
For this reason, we have implemented the National Early Childhood Plan. One of its components focuses on Early Childhood Centers, where girls and boys are cared for from an integrated perspective (nutritional assistance, early stimulation and psychomotor skills, disease prevention and promotion of health). We are currently promoting the establishment of these Centers in rural areas of Argentina in order to achieve equality of opportunity. The First Years National Program seeks to strengthen the capacities of families raising children between 0 and 4 years of age in a context of poverty. The program is available throughout the country, and succeeds in supporting the upbringing of children in rural communities of Indigenous Peoples. As part of the initiative, reading material was provided in different languages including Pilagá, Wichi and Quom, to support parents in raising her children.
With regard to access to comprehensive healthcare, we implemented the Unwanted Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Plan. This initiative incorporates the gender perspective and the empowerment of women across the different goals and lines of action. This is even more relevant for young rural women, who find it more difficult to access not only contraceptive methods but also the information they need to exercise their sexuality in a responsible, autonomous manner.
In Argentina, we have broadened the early childhood programs offered. The children of seasonal and independent workers (monotributistas, who pay a single unified monthly tax), mostly linked to rural activities, have been included. It is worth noting that this type of program strengthens women’s empowerment, given that this initiative has a stronger impact, thus helping them exercise more autonomy in their household decisions.
Based on the information resulting from the National Survey on Low Income Neighborhoods, thousands of families living in vulnerable settlements can now access a certificate of family housing, which allows them to legally certify their address before any official authority. Women are the protagonists of this historic process, representing 58% of all heads of household.
Women account for more than 70% of social assistance program beneficiaries, and their support is actively promoted in an attempt to increase their autonomy and empowerment. Likewise, women-led productive enterprises and their trade circuits are also strengthened in vulnerable rural communities, promoting local development and the principles of fair trade.
The Pro-Huerta Program carries out projects focused on women for producing their own food, and trading any excess production through orchards and farms. Another line of action fosters projects associated with the access to water based on initiatives to capture rain water through cisterns, watersheds and springs. This policy has a significant impact on rural women, who are traditionally in charge of providing the water, often having to walk for miles to do so.
Finally, another component of the gender agenda developed in Argentina in recent years has to do with the eradication of violence against women. For the first time in Argentina, a National Action Plan against Gender Violence was developed with two main lines of action: on one hand, prevention and equality in education, and on the other, integrated assistance and support for women suffering from gender violence. The Plan clearly sets forth the decision and political will of the Government to include as a state policy the right of every person to live a violence-free life.
Furthermore, we have made a commitment to the relatives of women who have died as a result of violence, taking concrete actions against this scourge. The Brisa Act establishes the payment of a monthly compensation to the children of victims of femicide. Gender violence leaves hundreds of children without their mother, and so supporting these children and promoting equal educational policies is our priority.
Predefined female and male roles will only limit our dreams, projects and concerns.
The challenge of building a society with zero inequality is a commitment we must all undertake. Along with the changes and progress made by women, it becomes necessary to include and involve men in this fight. Their involvement in equality initiatives is a process that is essential for the development of a democratic society. We must think of ourselves as a whole, leaving behind the concepts of men and women as an imposed duality that was used to define roles, establish barriers and distribute tasks. Predefined female and male roles will only limit our dreams, projects and concerns. This does not entail a denial of the differences, but is an attempt to incorporate equality as a legal, ethical and political principle.
Gender equality is a daily challenge for me. In my position as Minister of Development, this challenge means providing the tools and the necessary support so that every woman can grow, feel empowered, choose freely and reach her full potential throughout her life. In my personal experience, being in daily contact with women, I have witnessed the transformative power of all women. From those who support their families in rural environments to those who build early childhood centers for their own children and for other mothers as well, so that they too can go to work knowing that their sons and daughters are properly looked after. Also, the power of those women who develop productive enterprises where a single idea generates a process that brings entire communities to life. Gender equality also challenges me as a mother, to raise my boys with values of equality.
Setting free the potential of women and girls has a multiplier effect, which not only benefits women, but society as a whole. Therefore, this struggle cannot be led by women alone; it must become a standard for the whole of society.